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The NHL Board of Governors approved a new franchise for Utah for the 2024-25 season and pulled the plug on the Arizona Coyotes.

“Effective at closing, the approved transactions will result in the Coyotes franchise transferring the totality of its existing hockey assets – including its full Reserve List, roster of Players and draft picks and its Hockey Operations Department – to the Utah franchise,” a league statement said. 

Coyotes fans were emotional Wednesday night at the team’s final regular-season game at Mullet Arena, the 5,000-seat arena at Arizona State University, knowing the possibility the franchise may never return. 

The Coyotes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-2.

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Fans of the Arizona Coyotes hold up signs and react after a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena April 17, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

All of its operations will be heading to Salt Lake City, where Ashley and Ryan Smith of the Smith Entertainment Group, who own the NBA’s Utah Jazz, will be taking over. 

According to ESPN, Smith Entertainment Group acquired the team and its assets for $1.2 billion from Alex Meruelo, who bought the franchise for $300 million in 2019. However, the NHL grew tired of Meruelo not finding a long-term solution for an arena fit to NHL standards in Arizona and worked on a sale instead. 

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We are also delighted to welcome Ashley and Ryan Smith to the NHL family and know they will be great stewards of the game in Utah. We thank them for working so collaboratively with the league to resolve a complex situation in this unprecedented and beneficial way.”

COYOTES GIVE ARIZONA FANS ONE FINAL SHOW WITH WIN OVER PLAYOFF-BOUND OILERS

“We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise,” the Smiths said. “This is a transformative day for our state and our fans. Our intention had always been to pursue an expansion team. Commissioner Bettman conceived and proposed an ingenious plan that would allow us to acquire an NHL franchise while also helping to address and remedy an immediate need of the NHL. 

“When he approached us and asked us for help resolving this situation, we made the bold decision to introduce a new franchise in Utah, fully understanding that we are stepping up to do something in a time frame and way that has never been done before in professional sports under these circumstances.”

Meruelo has the right to reactivate a team if a “new, state-of-the-art facility” is built within five years. This would create a new expansion team in the NHL if the criteria are met by Meruelo.

The Arizona Coyotes salute fans after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 at Mullett Arena April 17, 2024, in Tempe, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered. We thank Alex Menuelo for his commitment to the franchise and Arizona, and we fully support his ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes,” Bettman added. “We also want to acknowledge the loyal hockey fans of Arizona, who have supported their team with dedication for nearly three decades while growing the game.”

Meruelo added: “I agree with Commissioner Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League that it is simply unfair to continue to have our players, coaches, hockey front office and the NHL teams they compete against spend several more years playing in an arena that is not suited for NHL hockey. 

“But this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona. I have negotiated the right to reactivate the team within the next five years and have retained ownership of the beloved Coyotes name, brand and logo. I remain committed to this community and to building a first-class sports arena and entertainment district without seeking financial support from the public.”

The Coyotes’ players were kept in the dark about the relocation until Friday, when the team’s general manager, Bill Armstrong, told them on the road in Edmonton. Coaches and players wanted answers about the situation, according to ESPN, but they knew a move was likely coming. 

Josh Doan of the Arizona Coyotes looks up ice while leaning against his stick after a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena April 17, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. (Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

As for what the Utah team will be called, Smith said that there is a chance a temporary name and logo will be used for the 2024-25 campaign. The hockey team will play at the Delta Center, which is where the Jazz play home games. 

Meruelo retains the name, intellectual property and records for the Coyotes. The new arena project made a step forward last month when the team reportedly found land in north Phoenix near Loop 101 and Scottdale Road. 

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The team’s future in Arizona was previously unclear after Tempe voters declined a proposed $2.3 billion entertainment district. The Coyotes have since petitioned to buy the 110-acre parcel in north Phoenix under “Miracle Development.”

There is a statewide auction for the land June 27. 

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